Our local heroes, stars
Other Grahamstonian inventors mentioned in my book, What a Great Idea! Awesome South African Inventions, include ‘Doc’ Sherman Harvey Ripley, whom I interviewed in 2016 and who died on 13 June this year. He was born in 1926 in Cedara and, in the mid-1960s at the Medical School in Durban, developed the Ripley Resuscitator, a device that improved the efficiency of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation for drowning victims. He found that traditional CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) methods involve exhaling into the victim’s mouth, but this is inefficient as exhaled breath contains less oxygen and more carbon dioxide than inhaled breath.
Ripley equipped life-savers with small oxygen bottles connected to dental masks, which allowed them to breathe oxygen in through their noses and exhale it into the victim’s mouth. His invention led to the development of other oxygenenhanced CPR techniques in Canada, the USA, Scandinavia and Australia. Ripley also developed tiny plastic balloons that could be inserted into the brain, blood vessels, urethra or anus to allow surgeons to carry out repairs to damaged internal organs.
Of course the superstar of South African science is Grahamstown’s Professor Tebello Nyokong, who joined the staff of Rhodes University in 1992, where she is now a Distinguished Professor. She is best known for her research on nanotechnology and photodynamic therapy, with the latter paving the way for safer cancer detection and treatment without the debilitating side effects of chemotherapy. She is a recipient of the Order of Mapungubwe (Bronze) and was named as one of the top 10 most influential women in science and technology in Africa by IT News Africa. In 2013 she was awarded the National Research Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award.
Grahamstonians have also made important contributions in the field of sustainable living. The late Brian la Trobe was arguably the only mayor in the world who held community braais on the city rubbish dump using methane gas and was also an internationally respected ‘drain brain’.
He invented the Enviro-Loo in 1993, a waterless toilet system made from UV-treated polyethylene with a ceramic bowl but no internal moving parts. It does not need chemicals or electricity to function as it uses solar and wind energy, and can be set up anywhere. The ELoo is used in many countries where water is scarce and has been credited with reducing the incidence of waterborne diseases, such as cholera and dysentery.
Nikki Köhly, Rhodes University’s Safety, Health & Environment Officer, really ‘walks her talk’ as her home and garden are a model of sustainable living. She recycles water using Jeremy Taylor’s Water Rhapsody system so that waste water from her washing machine is used to flush the toilets, and has installed a waterless SANIX toilet in an outside room. Grey water from the bathroom is redirected into a soak pit that feeds a banana plantation.
Rain water is harvested off the roof into JoJo tanks and is piped, using a solar pump, to a header tank from which water is gravity-fed into her water-reticulation system. For the past six years she has been independent of the municipal water supply, although she has retained a connection in case of emergency. All her water heating is solar using low pressure geysers (which also saves water), with a back-up electrical element in case of extended inclement weather. She uses a ‘Water Well’ layered filter system with ceramic dome, carbon filter and mineral stones to purify and add essential minerals to her drinking water, and all organic waste from the kitchen is composted in composting bins and ‘red wiggler’ worm farms.
Even JLB Smith cracks a mention. During his tenure at Rhodes as a Lecturer in Chemistry he devised several innovative analytical techniques in organic chemistry that were widely used until they were replaced by more modern methods. He also exercised his analytical mind by devising a key to identify fishes that is used throughout the world. The key uses a formula based on the number of hard spines and soft rays in the fins combined with a lateral line scale count and gill-raker count. In case you catch a coelacanth on your next fishing trip, and need to confirm its ID, its formula is: D VII + 30; A 27-31; P 29-32; V 29-33; C 25 + 38 + 21; LL 76-82 + 15-23!
Talking about the coelacanth, the first craft beer brewed in South Africa, by Mitchell’s Brewery in Knysna, was called ‘Old Four Legs’.
The Featherstone Brewery in Grahamstown has continued this fine tradition by producing ‘Oldenburgia Weiss’, named after the ancient mountain hunchback plant, Oldenburgia grandis, that is endemic to the Eastern Cape. • Mike Bruton is a retired scientist and a busy writer; email@example.com